The summer months bring pleasant thoughts of the great outdoors. However, for people living with multiple sclerosis (MS), these months can be unsettling, filled with fear of overheating.
MS is a disease of the immune system that attacks myelin, a protective covering that surrounds and insulates the nerves. MS causes scars (sclerosis) to form around nerves, slowing down the signals between the brain and muscles and other tissues of the body. MS symptoms can include numbness in the extremities, fatigue, blurred vision, overall weakness, tremors, decreased cognitive function and slurred speech.
One additional symptom of MS, a reduced ability to tolerate increased body temperature, can lead to temporary heightening of any or all MS symptoms, a condition known as "MS pseudo-exacerbation." While not life threatening, MS pseudo-exacerbation can be frightening to MS patients. Once the body temperature returns to normal, the elevated symptoms resolve.
There are a number of ways those with MS can beat the heat and be able to enjoy the summer months:
Stay inside in air-conditioned space during the hottest part of the day. If you don't have air conditioning, take a trip to the mall or go to a movie.
Wear lightweight, light-colored clothing. Dark colors absorb more heat. Heavy clothing releases heat slowly
Stay cool in a pool. Water temperature must be below 850 Fahrenheit.
Use cooling vests, scarfs or wrist/ankle cool packs.
Use an oscillating fan.
Drink 2 quarts of water a day.
Avoid caffeinated drinks.
Enjoy frozen fruit or smoothies.
Take a cool bath or shower.
Cardiovascular exercise two to three times a week is important to fight fatigue and decrease damage to the brain. MS patients working out should:
Cool down BEFORE exercise.
Wear a cooling vest, cooling scarf or use a misting fan.
Exercise indoors near a fan or air-conditioning vent.
Exercise in the morning (coolest part of the day).
Avoid outdoor exercise in the heat/humidity.
Perform mini-workouts with more rest periods; never exercise to the point of fatigue.
Try yoga, tai-chi, swimming, biking or circuit training.
Consult a physical therapist/occupational therapist with experience in treating MS patients to design a personalized exercise program.